Transportation, Food, Water, Energy – Recap of IN2 Summit


Source: NREL

As a Channel Partner to Wells Fargo Innovation Incubator (IN2) program, Cleantech Group participated in last week’s IN2 Summit at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in Golden, Colorado. With a $30 million funding from the Wells Fargo Foundation, the IN2 program is co-administered by NREL and designed to facilitate the scale-up of early-stage cleantech start-ups towards the goal of reducing energy impact.

The main goal for the Summit was to take a deep dive into three sectors – transportation, food energy water nexus, and residential – to further help guide the IN2 program. Specifically, the full-day working session gathered industry experts, investors, and IN2 stakeholders to discuss challenges, trends, and opportunities within those three sectors.


Transportation was one of the three key discussion topics that covered the entire transportation value chain, ranging from technological innovations in autonomous vehicles and its supporting infrastructure to social-business issues around vehicle ownership and public transportation. From our perspective, the transportation sector is certainly thriving in terms of venture investments, particularly in autonomous vehicles, as this subsector has fostered innovation in both hardware and software development. My colleague has recently published a blog post that summarized the current state of autonomous vehicle development. From the latest edition of our subscriber-only Quarterly Investment Monitor, we zoomed in on the global growth in autonomous vehicle investments and highlighted several recent top deals during the first half of 2017.

However, socio-economic equality issues are causing a significant bottleneck in creating a sustainable transportation system. For example, last-mile logistics are often the limiting factor for commuters to take public transportation instead of driving. In addition, inefficiency in private vehicle ownership has also been mentioned as a factor for traffic congestion. Although the problem is clear, it is rather difficult to change consumer behaviors for many reasons, including factors such as convenience and the cost-benefits attained (in terms of dollar spent versus time saved).

Food-Energy-Water Nexus

The crossover between agriculture & food, energy, and water was another key theme discussed at the event. Key issues ranging from energy use in food production, food waste, and water infrastructure were all highlighted by various ecosystem stakeholders. The food-energy-water nexus is also of growing importance in our coverage as well: you can read our commentary on the recent retreat of venture investment in water here. In addition, the agriculture & food sector is worth highlighting, given the consistent increase in venture investment since 2010 we have seen through our coverage on i3. What’s more notable here is the increasing number of first-time equity investors from the corporate and venture capital community in agriculture & food since January 2016.

See below for a representation of first-time investors in this space:


Another growing trend we’ve been tracking centering on this theme is the emergence of alternative proteins. Impossible Foods’ latest $75 million fundraising round is a perfect example to highlight here and further demonstrates the investment community’s belief in the company’s mission to combat climate change. You can read a more detailed analysis on our coverage of the alternative protein space here.


Finally, residential building energy was the third component of the discussion agenda. Similar to the previous two topics, challenges and solutions around residential building energy touch on a wide spectrum of this theme, ranging from classic energy-intensive operations such as HVAC to the growing complexity of peak demand and grid integration. As connected devices become ever more mainstream, we have already started to see applications in energy through use cases like smart home, home automation, and energy analytics.

We are excited to see events such as the IN2 Summit and look forward to continuing support the program.